Monday, December 13, 2010

Amazon Web Service (AWS), WikiLeaks: series of unfortunate events

As a current Amazon Web Service customer (as well as ex-employee of Amazon) I was sad to see reports of AWS mishandling of its WikiLeaks hosting.
My main objection is not regarding whether AWS should host the content or not, and I understand that due to self-service nature sometimes termination need to occur after customer relationship has been initially established. But the way termination came about was a complete cluster and really makes me wonder if I want to continue using AWS or even recommend it to others.

As far as I understand, basic facts are that:

  1. WikiLeaks started hosting content with AWS
  2. AWS was contacted by Posturing and Angry US politician(s) who wants to fight WikiLeaks using intimidation tactics ("you are either with us, or you are with.... terrorists!"). Sort of like, you know, people who use terror as a weapon to further their agenda.
  3. Shortly afterwards AWS terminated hosting of said content citing "probable cause for copyright infringement", without actual request for doing so (pro-actively) -- essentially claiming WikiLeaks was "guilty until proven innocent", but without giving them a chance to present any proof.

Now: the way I see it, one of two things happened to effect step 3: either Amazon agreed to do what Lieber"man" et al asked (but lied about not having done that); or Amazon wanted to pro-actively tackle issue they knew would become problematic (opportunistic), using some suitable weasel-word section from the contract.

What should have happened is simple: AWS should have done nothing before officials presented them with a court order or valid cease-and-desist letter (or whatever equivalent is done for Patriot Act requests); and if that happened, publicly announce what they did and why. This is what other companies have done (Google, Yahoo). Or in cases of copyright infringement, similar demand by (alleged) copyright holder, accompanied with court order or whatever DMCA requires. One would think this would be easy for government to do as well for content it has produced.

So why did this not happen? Since I have no idea what sort of backchannel communication resulted in what happened, best I can do is speculate. My two favourite suggestions are that either someone called favors; or that some mid-level manager made a panic decision.

Painful, very painful to watch. It's as if someone gave themselves a wedgie just to prevent bullies from doing it...

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